Deep Dive: How do Coca-Cola keep front of mind?

It’s a jungle out there. With so many brands struggling to cut their way through the overgrowth and get in front of their customers, we thought we’d look at a brand who is 100 years old and still going strong. Coca-Cola are not just industry leaders in their field, they are a reflection of the evolution and marketing and advertising practices.  

Early Years 

So you probably know that Coca-Cola was originally invented as a health tonic by Dr John Pemberton back in 1886, but it’s Asa Candler who should be considered the real father of the soft drink juggernaut we all know today. Asa had a pretty simple revelation. In order to make a profit from his low-cost beverage he would need high-volume sales. So he began marketing aggressively.  

He wanted Coca-Cola to be everywhere, to be ubiquitous, and was one of the first to understand the value of a strong brand and sell a lifestyle to people, and not just a drink. In the early years he would encourage repeat business by handing out coupons and gave away a wide variety of promotional goods to get the brand name out there. 

Candler’s tactics were successful and soon the company faced a new problem. There were a whole raft of competition popping up. Not only were they calling themselves variations of the ‘cola’ name, but many were re-using old cola bottles and slapping on a new sticker. Asa knew he needed a way to differentiate the brand, and so a distinct bottle was created with the Coca-Cola logo forged within. This new shape made coke instantly recognisable and served as a stamp of quality against competitors. 

The three key ingredients of Coca-Cola’s success can be seen almost 100 years ago;  

  •       Ensuring the product is available everywhere.
  •       Selling a lifestyle and not just a product.
  •       Aggressively marketing the product for maximum brand recognition.

How this evolved 

As we fast-forward to the 80’s and 90’s it was practically impossible to escape the brand. The company really doubled down on its ambition to be everywhere. It advertised heavily on every medium and even sold discounted refrigerator units and vending machines which heavily featured their advertising. It was difficult to go into a shop, walk down the street, or turn on your TV without seeing Coca-Cola.  

What’s more, Coca-Cola started to invade popular culture and was featured predominately in movies like 1978’s Superman (where the man of steel crashes through a billboard) and ET (who opens a can) practically inventing product placement. 

This is a good reflection of most major brands’ strategy at the time. Advertising opportunities had grown but there were still only limited channels (or at least when compared to today) and so with a big enough budget, you could get in front of customers pretty easily. If anything Coca-Cola’s dominance in this era highlights just how difficult it is to keep front-of-mind today. The internet created a whole new landscape for advertising and competition is fierce. Despite spending a steady $4bn worldwide on advertising between 2015-2019 (and $2bn during the pandemic) it certainly doesn’t feel as though the brand has the stranglehold it once had. Even with a billion-dollar budget, brands are struggling to be ubiquitous, but this isn’t the only challenge for the soft drink.  

Modern Challenges 

Today’s market wants more natural flavours, calorie-conscious options and low-sugar drinks. This has meant a major shake-up of the brand portfolio in recent times as Coca-Cola has traded off their well-known brand and diversified their product range. 

In the last twenty years they’ve introduced; Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Caffeine Free versions of the drink as well as flavours such as Strawberry Guava, Ginger Lime, Feisty Cherry and the launch of an energy drink. 

No longer is their strategy about getting one drink in front of everyone but instead getting the right drink in front of the right person. The biggest casualty of this? It might be that original drink. We have already seen in that there has had something of soft re-position with campaigns placing original Coca-Cola it less as a drink for everyday and more towards special occasions. Perhaps the Coca-Cola drink we all know might only be a small part of the range in years to come. 

Wrapping it up 

We’ve now taken a whistle-stop tour of Coca-Cola’s 130 year history, but what have we learnt? When it comes to keeping in front of our customers, we can see the importance of having strong brand values over a sustained period of time. We can also see that even if you’ve got a few billion dollars to throw at advertising (wouldn’t that be nice) it is more difficult to get in front of customers than ever before. Your best bet is to stop trying to be everywhere and just be in front of the right customer. Which sounds easy. Yet is something even the world’s biggest brands are struggling to do. 

Getting the right product in front of the right person at the right time requires a surprising amount of customer insight, coupled with a clear strategy. Researchbods is all about helping brands unearth the answers to help them grow with customers, make decisions with certainty, and create exceptional customer experiences. What kinds of brands you ask, well we’ve worked with Coca-Cola themselves in the past as well as HSBC, 02, Deliveroo and many more. Why not arrange a meeting today? 

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